Sony VAIO PCG-SRX77
WHAT'S HOT: At just 2.7 pounds without its AC adapter and external CD-ROM drive, the VAIO PCG-SRX77 is compact enough to tuck into a handbag or a thin briefcase. It's equipped for both 802.11b wireless and traditional networking, and lasts a very long 4 hours, 43 minutes on one charge of its six-cell battery. The PCG-SRX77 has a Memory Stick slot for Sony's gum-size storage cards, allowing you to transfer photos, music, and other data to and from Sony's digital devices. For downloading and working with digital video, it offers an IEEE 1394 connection (though a cable costs another $40) and Sony's usual truckload of editing applications. Microsoft Word 2002 and Quicken 2001 are also part of the software bundle.
WHAT'S NOT: The PCG-SRX77's 10.4-inch screen is small and not as vivid as other active-matrix screens, even with the brightness turned all the way up. The case is also a little tough to open.
Getting used to the petite keyboard takes a while. Paging up or down requires a combination keystroke, and the right Shift key is no larger than an alphanumeric key, which makes it almost impossible for touch typists to find.
As expected, the PCG-SRX77 lacks internal bays and some older notebook connections (a parallel port, a serial connection, and a mouse/keyboard PS/2 port). It also omits a standard monitor connection; instead you get a mini connection on the left side and a short adapter cable you'll have to remember to pack. Worsening matters, Sony doesn't sell a docking station or a port replicator to provide any of the missing connections.
External optical drives for the PCG-SRX77 use a PC Card interface, which fills the notebook's only PC Card slot. At the notebook's $2230 price, you get a relatively slow 12X-16X CD-ROM drive. You get just one USB port, as well.
WHAT ELSE: Except for its purple touchpad, the PCG-SRX77 eschews Sony's trademark purple-and-silver case colors for a more corporate look: silver and black with metallic accents. To save battery life, it has a switch that turns off scanning for wireless networks.
Don't like the touchpad? For scrolling and making selections in some menus, the PCG-SRX77 provides the latest Sony Jog Dial, a small barrel with its own back button embedded in the mouse buttons. Stereo speakers (unusual for an ultraportable) are mounted just beneath the last row of keys; their quality is far from top-of-the-line, but they're loud. Color-coded ports for headphones and a microphone sit on the right side. To its credit, the PCG-SRX77 lets you access, with some effort, both the hard drive and the memory slots, which is not always possible with an ultraportable. The hard drive sits behind a panel and four small screws; RAM is under the keyboard.
The PCG-SRX77's long-lasting lithium ion battery, a detachable bar that forms the back of the notebook, can act as a foot for typing at an angle. Sony sells a slightly heavier $499 power pack that it says will double the already long battery life. You can also get the PCG-SRX77 with speedier optical drives, namely a CD-RW drive ($500), a DVD-ROM drive ($400), or an 8X DVD-ROM and 8X/4X/24X CD-RW combination drive ($500).
The PCG-SRX77 turned in a fine performance for an ultraportable with a low-voltage 800-MHz/500-MHz Pentium III-M processor. Its PC WorldBench 4 score of 79 puts it in line with other ultraportables we've tested with the Windows XP Professional operating system. Sony's documentation consists mostly of a nice electronic user manual and a printed Quick Start manual to get you headed in the right direction.
UPSHOT: For anyone who needs an easy-to-tote digital editing machine for a relatively low price, the VAIO PCG-SRX77 should be near the top of the list. However, as it omits legacy connections, lacks a docking station or port replicator to provide them, and bears only one USB port, the PCG-SRX77 does have some severe limitations.
By Carla Thornton